Virginia Beach, Va. -- Mackenzie Chitwood postponed her final exam in religion to travel with the University of Lynchburg softball team to the NCAA Division III Virginia Beach Regional.
Sunday, Lynchburg's senior first baseman preached in the church of the longball.
Chitwood homered three times as the Hornets topped two-time defending national champion and top-ranked Virginia Wesleyan twice, 7-4 and 4-2, to win the regional tournament and move on to the super-regional round for the second time in program history.
The Ferrum, Va., native won Most Outstanding Player honors for the tournament, and senior third baseman Taylor Mabry (Bassett, Va.), senior right-handed pitcher Taylor Belknap (Arden, N.C.) and sophomore right-handed pitcher Kayley Cox (Yorktown, Va.) earned spots on the all-tournament team.
Lynchburg took an early lead in the day's deciding second game thanks to a solo home run by Chitwood in the bottom of the first inning.
Virginia Wesleyan took the lead in the top of the sixth when Katelyn Biando singled in two runs, but the lead didn't last long.
The Hornets countered in the bottom half as rain began to fall on VWU's Broyles Field. Junior shortstop Kayla Hugate (Chesterfield, Va.) started the rally with a one-out walk, which Mabry followed with a single.
Chitwood then launched her second homer of the ballgame, this one to left-center field, to put the Hornets back on top.
After a walk to senior catcher Brittany Coffey (Manassas, Va.), the rain picked up, sending the game into a 20-minute delay before skies cleared.
VWU escaped the inning without further damage, but Belknap dodged a leadoff walk in the seventh to slam the door and earn the win in relief and set off the celebration.
In Game 1, the Marlins took a 1-0 lead in the first on Julia Sinnett's RBI double. After Kortney Leazer (Remington, Va.) and Carol Oberhelman(Washington Township, N.J.) reached on back-to-back errors to lead off the inning, Mabry slugged a three-run homer down the left-field line to put the Hornets up, 3-1.
Lynchburg added another run an inning later on Mabry's RBI single with two outs, and the Hornets made it a 6-1 lead in the sixth on back-to-back solo homers by Mabry and Chitwood.
Freshman designated player Haley Drew (Appomattox, Va.) added an RBI single in the seventh for a 7-1 Lynchburg lead.
The Marlins rallied in the seventh, bringing the tying run to the plate before Belknap induced the game-ending groundout. She tossed a complete game in the opening ballgame, allowing four runs, two earned, and striking out a pair of VWU hitters.
The first Lynchburg win broke the Hornets' 11-game losing skid against Virginia Wesleyan dating back to 2015.
Most impressively, both Sunday's wins came with VWU southpaw Hanna Hull in the circle. Hull was the national player of the year in 2017 and 2018 and is a three-time Old Dominion Athletic Conference pitcher of the year. She entered Sunday with an ERA under 0.40 and is the league's all-time leader in strikeouts and wins.
Chitwood's MOP honor came on the heels of a tournament in which she homered four times and drove in seven runs, slugging 1.125 over the five games. She broke the Old Dominion Athletic Conference's single-season RBI record with the three-run homer, bringing her to a Division III-best 69 for the year.
Mabry went 6-for-18 with two homers and seven RBI in the tournament. She had been 1-for-18 against Hull in her career prior to Sunday, but all three hits against the lefty loomed large in the deciding games.
Belknap tossed a team-high 20 ⅓ innings in the regional, compiling a 1.39 ERA and wins in both Sunday's games.
Cox, pitching through a rib injury throughout the weekend, was 2-0 with a 0.46 ERA in the tournament. She allowed just 10 hits in 15 ⅓ innings and struck out five.
Lynchburg will learn its NCAA super-regional fate in the coming days as the nation's other 15 regional tournaments wrap up. Check back with LynchburgSports.com for full details on the Division III softball tournament and Lynchburg's upcoming pairing.